Relationship Advice: How to Make a Genuine Apology

A genuine apology contains at least four elements: apology, acknowledgment, forgiveness and repentance.

Let's take a closer look at each of these four elements.


I've come to dislike the words "I'm sorry" because they're so easily said that they've lost their meaning. The word "apologize" better captures the sense that you have done something wrong and are willing to make it right.

There's a scene from "Happy Days" that captures well the difference. Fonzie is getting on his cousin Spike about stealing from a store. After Spike says, "OK, so I made a mistake!" Fonzie answers, "No! Two plus two equals five is a mistake. What you did was wrong."

Acknowledge the damage done

My dictionary tells me that acknowledge means to "admit the fact or truth of." When you acknowledge the damage done by a wrong, you demonstrate an awareness of the consequences of your offense.

In our no-fault culture, the words "I know I hurt you" are rarely heard. I think one of the reasons they're rarely heard is that it can be humbling to own up to the damage done.


"I realize that my coming home late makes you feel suspicious,"


"I get that it scares you when I yell."

Ask for forgiveness

Now here comes the really humbling part.

Asking for forgiveness is so much more powerful than just saying I'm sorry.

In relationships, asking someone to forgive you acknowledges that damage has been done to the relationship and that some healing needs to take place. It can also begin to bridge the gap between two people that the damage has caused.

Commit to not doing it again

A complete and genuine apology requires a commitment to not let it happen again. Saying I'm sorry is easy. What would you think if your best friend stood you up for lunch, was sorry and then did it again and then again? Would you believe your friend was genuinely sorry? Of course not. You might even consider finding new friends.

Committing to not repeating the behavior, or repentance, looks something like this:

"What I did is unacceptable to me and unacceptable to you, and I will do everything in my power to not let it happen again."

If you have ever been on the giving end of this kind of genuine apology, you know how humbling it can be. You also know what a relief it can be to get it off your chest.

If you have ever been on the receiving end of this kind of genuine apology, you know how a genuine apology can melt away hurt, anger and resentment and begin to reconnect you with the other person.

Jeff Herring is a Relationship Coach, Speaker, and Syndicated Relationship Columnist. Visit for more relationship tips and tools, a free internet newsletter and free e-programs to enrich your relationship.

In The News:

How to Mend a Work Relationship  Harvard Business Review
Past Relationships  CBS Pittsburgh
Long-distance relationships at U.Va.  University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

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